“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” – Attributed to Mark Twain
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did his best reprisal of Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, citing old intelligence conflated into a current threat in making the U.S. case for war with Iraq. Powell Blames Himself, Others For Specious Iraq WMD Claims to U.N.: “A failure will always be attached to me and my U.N. presentation,” Powell writes in “It Worked For Me,” a book that provides leadership advice. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.”
Benjamin Netanyahu will not be so introspective in making his case to President Donald Trump to undermine the Iran Deal, and to set the stage for a war with Iran, something this Neocon war monger has long desired.
President Trump today cited Netanyahu’s presentation in announcing that the U.S. will violate the Iran Deal by withdrawing from the agreement and reimposing nuclear sanctions on Iran. Read Trump’s Speech Withdrawing From the Iran Deal:
At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear-energy program. Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie. Last week, Israel published intelligence documents, long-concealed by Iran, conclusively showing the Iranian regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons.
Echoes from the recent past. Peter Beinart writes, Iran Hawks Are the New Iraq Hawks:
Last week, while watching Benjamin Netanyahu unveil secret information that supposedly proved that Iran is deceiving the world about its nuclear-weapons program, I had a flashback. It was to February 5, 2003, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell unveiled secret information that supposedly proved that Iraq was deceiving the world about its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. Like Netanyahu’s, Powell’s presentation was dramatic. He informed the United Nations Security Council that some of the material he was about to present came from “people who have risked their lives to let the world know what Saddam Hussein is really up to.” He went on to play a secretly recorded conversation of two Iraqi officials supposedly plotting to mislead weapons inspectors. He later presented a photo of bunkers that allegedly held “active chemical munitions” but were “clean when the inspectors get there.” Saddam, Powell insisted, wants “to give those [of] us on this Council the false impression that the inspection process was working.” Powell’s presentation was designed to prove that it was not.
The parallels between that moment and this one are uncanny. In both cases, American leaders feared that a longtime Middle Eastern adversary was breaking free of the fetters that had previously restrained it. In both cases, American leaders pursued a more confrontational policy, which they buttressed with frightening statements about the regime’s nuclear program. In both cases, international inspectors contradicted those alarmist claims. In both cases, America’s European allies defended the inspectors and warned of the chaos America’s confrontational policy might bring. In both cases, hawks in America and Israel responded by trying to discredit the inspection regime. And in both cases, two leaders of that effort were John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obviously, there are differences between then and now. In 2003, the United States government wanted war. Today, it wants to undo a diplomatic agreement [the Neocons, like John Bolton, want war]. In 2003, the Israeli government (as opposed to Netanyahu, who was then a private citizen) was wary of America’s confrontational policy. Today, the Israeli government is aggressively lobbying for it. But while history is not repeating itself, it is rhyming in remarkable ways. Which raises a disturbing question: How is it possible—15 years after the launch of one the greatest catastrophes in American history—that so many of the assumptions that guided America’s march to war in Iraq still dominate American foreign policy today?
Answering that question requires remembering the history that Netanyahu, Bolton, and their political and journalistic allies would likely prefer that Americans forget.
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Fast forward [to today]. Bolton is back in government as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser. Netanyahu is again Israel’s prime minister. And they are making the same arguments about the futility of the international inspections regime in Iran that they once made about the futility of the international inspections regime in Iraq.
Their argument begins, once again, with the claim that a fearsome adversary is breaking free of the constraints that previously held it in check. In the run-up to the Iraq War, Bolton warned that because of weakening international sanctions and a feckless Clinton administration, Saddam “represents a serious and growing security threat.” Earlier this month, Netanyahu’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, declared that, “as all the sanctions were removed, as all the money has flowed into Iran” because of the nuclear deal, “now you see Iran marching through the Middle East.” Bolton last year claimed that, “Tehran is trying to cement an arc of control from its own territory, through Baghdad-controlled Iraq and Mr. Assad’s Syria, to Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon.” The irony, which neither Netanyahu nor Bolton acknowledge, is that Iran’s growing regional strength stems in large measure from the Iraq War they championed, which turned Iraq from a bulwark against Iranian power into a close Iranian ally.
As with Iraq, Bolton and Netanyahu want the United States to meet this supposedly growing threat with a more confrontational policy. Key to that policy shift is withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal, which would leave the U.S. free to reimpose sanctions, and perhaps, as Bolton has suggested, even bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
And, as with Iraq, it’s easier for Bolton and Netanyahu to achieve that goal if they discredit the current system of international inspections. Bolton has called the inspection efforts established by the Iran nuclear deal “fatally inadequate” and declared that “the International Atomic Energy Agency” is “likely missing significant Iranian [nuclear] facilities.” In his 2015 speech to Congress attacking the Iran deal, Netanyahu insisted that “Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.”
Netanyahu and Bolton’s problem, as with Iraq, is that the inspectors don’t think they’re being cheated. ElBaradei’s successor as director general of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, has said his organization “now has the world’s most robust verification regime in place in Iran.” The IAEA has certified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal nine times. And, as in 2003, key European governments are defending the inspectors. Earlier this month, the French Foreign Ministry called the inspection effort in Iran “one of the most exhaustive and robust regimes in the history of nuclear nonproliferation.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified to Congress that Iran is ‘fundamentally’ in compliance with nuclear deal and recommended sticking with Iran nuclear deal. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also testified to Congress that Iran is adhering to its obligations under the nuclear agreement. Top general says Iran complying with nuclear deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s position is at odds with most Israeli experts in Military Intelligence and in the IDF’s Planning Directorate, the Mossad, Foreign Ministry and the Atomic Energy Committee. Netanyahu at Odds With Israeli Military and Intelligence Brass Over Whether to Push Trump to Scrap Iran Nuclear Deal.
That’s the narrative that Netanyahu—like Powell in 2003—went before the cameras last week to undermine. Like Powell, Netanyahu claimed the weapons inspectors had been duped. Israeli intelligence, he declared, had found “new and conclusive proof” that Iran “didn’t come clean to the IAEA, as required by the nuclear deal.” After Netanyahu’s presentation, Dermer—who can be seen sitting behind Netanyahu in 2002 as Netanyahu testified to Congress about the inadequacy of weapons inspections in Iraq—told CNN’s Erin Burnett that, “The inspections regime in Iran, Erin, is a joke.”
Netanyahu is likely right that Iran hasn’t “come clean” to the IAEA about its past nuclear activities. In 2002, Hans Blix said much the same about Iraq’s incomplete statements about its past WMD programs. But now, as then, inspectors deny that evasion about past nuclear activities equals evasion about current nuclear activities. In fact, international inspectors responded to Netanyahu’s presentation much as they had to Powell’s: By denying that the information constituted anything particularly new.
They’re right. Just as the Bush administration could not prove that Iraq was still pursuing a nuclear-weapons program in 2003, the Netanyahu and Trump administrations cannot prove that Iran is pursuing one today. So, like the Bush administration, they keep shading the truth.
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Similarly, Bolton has repeatedly declared—despite the IAEA’s findings and without proof—that Iran is still actively seeking nuclear weapons. Last September, he said, “Iran’s program continues unhindered.” This March, he spoke about Iran’s “continued effort to get deliverable nuclear weapons.” Which helps explain why the Trump administration keeps suggesting the same thing. After Netanyahu’s presentation, the White House issued a statement declaring that “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear-weapons program.” It later changed“has” to “had,” but Trump himself keeps using the present tense. Asked about Netanyahu’s presentation, he declared, “I’ve been saying it’s happening. They’re not sitting back idly.”
How is this possible? How is it possible that Trump—who during the presidential campaign boasted about his supposed opposition to the Iraq War—has now embraced an outlook so similar to the one that guided Bush in 2002 and 2003? How can Bolton and Netanyahu remain unrepentant about their role in promoting war with Iraq and yet be taken seriously when they make similar arguments about the supposed nuclear threat from Iran? Why can’t America learn from its recent past?
Beinart offers several unsatisfying answers to these questions. He concludes:
Withdrawing from the nuclear deal could easily put the United States or Israel, or both, on the path to war with Iran. As long as John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu retain their current influence, another Middle Eastern war is entirely possible. Where it might lead is anyone’s guess. The greatest current threat to American national security is not Iran, North Korea, or ISIS. It’s amnesia. And Americans need a strategy to fight it.
Despite President Trump, once again, undermining our European allies, After Trump says U.S. will withdraw from Iran deal, allies say they’ll try to save it:
After President Trump announced Tuesday that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord, key U.S. allies and others voiced concern about the fallout but vowed to salvage the deal.
Chief among the critics was French President Emmanuel Macron, who was Europe’s leading emissary to Washington in efforts to defend the deal and who has sought to cultivate a strong personal rapport with Trump.
Macron spoke on the phone with his American counterpart earlier Tuesday about “peace and stability in the Middle East.” But after Trump’s announcement, the French president immediately expressed his disappointment on social media and later joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May in a joint statement noting their “regret and concern.”
“Together, we emphasize our continuing commitment to the JCPOA,” their statement read, using the abbreviation for the deal’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “This agreement remains important for our shared security.”
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“We urge the U.S. to ensure that the structures of the JCPOA can remain intact, and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal,” Macron, Merkel and May said in their statement. “After engaging with the U.S. Administration in a thorough manner over the past months, we call on the U.S. to do everything possible to preserve the gains for nuclear non-proliferation brought about by the JCPOA, by allowing for a continued enforcement of its main elements.”
For the time being, Iran to negotiate with Europeans, Russia and China about remaining in nuclear deal:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that his government remains committed to a nuclear deal with world powers, despite the U.S. decision to withdraw, but is also ready to resume uranium enrichment should the accord no longer offer benefits.
Rouhani, who had made the deal his signature achievement, spoke following President Trump’s announcement that the United States would reimpose wide-ranging sanctions on Iran. The removal of those sanctions, including on the Iranian oil and banking sectors, had been key to persuading Iran to accept limits on its nuclear program.
The Iranian leader said he had directed his diplomats to negotiate with the deal’s remaining signatories — including European countries, Russia and China — and that the nuclear agreement could survive without the United States.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that he would “spearhead a diplomatic effort to examine whether remaining JCPOA participants can ensure its full benefits for Iran.”
But Rouhani warned that Iran would begin enriching uranium beyond the levels allowed in the accord if the government decides the country’s needs are not being met. He said Iran would decide in “a few weeks” whether or not to ramp up enrichment.
It was a stark warning from an otherwise pragmatic politician who has long championed diplomacy with the West.
“If in the short-term, we conclude that we can achieve what we want” from the nuclear deal, the agreement will survive, Rouhani said in a televised address. If not, he said he ordered Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to prepare for unlimited uranium enrichment in the event the government decides to withdraw from the pact. He called Trump’s tactics “psychological warfare” and urged Iranians to resist U.S. pressure on Iran.
A senior advisor to Rouhani, Hesamodin Ashna, tweeted Tuesday that Iran’s “answer to Trump will not be rushed, but it will be painful.”
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Trump’s decision to reinstate “powerful” U.S. nuclear-related sanctions against Iran could cripple the Iranian economy and put European allies in a bind over whether to continue investing in Iran, which was a key provision of the deal.
It will also undermine Rouhani’s government, and strengthen the hand of the Iranian hardliners who did not want the Iran Nuclear Deal and who want to pursue a nuclear program. It will make war with Iran all the more likely.
[O]thers have been less forgiving, urging Iran’s leaders to immediately withdraw and restart suspended elements of the country’s nuclear program. Fliers circulating online called for a rally in Iran’s northeastern city of Mashhad to “set the JCPOA on fire.”
The Iranian parliament’s Nuclear Committee published three actions that the government could, including installing more centrifuges and ramping up uranium enrichment. Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for nuclear power plants or — if enriched at much higher levels — as fissile material for nuclear weapons.
If Trump confronts Iran, “we will not remain passive,” the head of the National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said Tuesday in an interview with the Hamshahri newspaper.
“The Islamic Republic will stand firmly against this threat,” Shamkhani said of the Trump administration’s stance.
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“Rouhani is already under huge pressure,” said Saeid Hasanzadeh, an Iranian analyst based in Istanbul.
He said that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,who wields ultimate religious and political authority in Iran, has distanced himself enough from the nuclear deal that its failure would be blamed on Rouhani.
The supreme leader “did not take direct responsibility for the deal,” Hasanzadeh said. “So the responsibility falls entirely on Rouhani’s shoulders.”